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Kashmir terror trail vanishes in Kerala's political sands

Posted on 19 Nov 2008 | IANS

By B.R.P. Bhaskar : A month after the Kerala police got on the job, investigators are yet to provide a satisfactory explanation for the presence of youths from the state among those killed in encounters with the security forces in a remote area of the Kashmir valley.

When authorities in Jammu and Kashmir said four youths from Kerala were among those killed in two encounters at Kupwara early in October, the state police dismissed it. The Kashmir terrorists must have forged identification papers to create the impression that they were getting support even from distant Kerala, they claimed.

However, the evidence marshalled by the Kashmir authorities compelled a visiting police team to concede that the four men killed in Kupwara were indeed residents of Kannur, Malappuram and Ernakulam districts of Kerala. All four were Muslims, one of them a recent convert from Christianity.

There followed a well-publicized operation to track down various persons who were known to be in touch with those killed in Kashmir or were associated with suspect organizations like the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) or the National Development Front. The political parties announced anti-terrorist campaigns.

The police told the media that terrorist groups might have recruited as many as 300 men from Kerala. This upset the government. Both the chief minister and the acting home minister described the reports as exaggerated.

P.K. Hormis Tharakan, who has been director of the Research and Analysis Wing as well as state Director General of Police, said Keralites who joined terrorist outfits had done so for monetary gain, not ideological or religious reasons.

Four weeks later, seven people are in the police net. They are all from Kannur district, and none appears to be a big catch. It is not clear what charges the police plan to slap on them. And the terrorist hunt has gone into low gear.

The theory about the mercenary character of terror recruits sidesteps the fact that communal sentiments have been on the rise in the state in recent years. The trend is evident in varying degrees among Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike.

Kerala's Muslims do not suffer from a minority complex. They form 24.7 percent of the state's population, which makes them the largest single caste/religious group. Christians form 19 percent.

The Hindus' nominal majority (56.2 per cent) is virtually nullified by the conflicting interests of major groups like the 'forward' Nairs (estimated at 19 per cent), the 'backward' Ezhavas (21 percent) and the marginalized Dalits and Adivasis (11 percent).

The campaign against the first Communist government of 1957-59 gave a new lease of life to caste and religious organizations, whose influence was on the decline after Independence. Since the United Democratic Front and the Left Democratic Front, currently the major contenders for power, are fairly well matched, the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which lead them, spare no effort to gain the support of caste and religious groups.

The Congress deals with the communal parties, some of whom are in secular disguise, quite openly. The Indian Union Muslim League and most of the Kerala Congress factions are its allies in the UDF. E. Ahamed, the lone League MP from the state, is Minister of State for External Affairs in the Manmohan Singh government.

The CPI-M, which had accepted a breakaway League faction as ally at one time, has been less open in recent years. A Kerala Congress faction is the LDF's only sectarian constituent now. On election eve, the CPI-M strikes private deals with various Muslim and Christian groups to boost the alliance's prospects.

The 1990s witnessed an intensification of the communal mood, with various Hindu and Muslim organizations queering the pitch. It was at this stage that SIMI first attracted attention with the slogan "India's liberation through Islam". The Sangh Parivar organized ritual consecration of bricks at several places for construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. A fiery orator, Abdul Naser Mahdani, set up an Islamic Seva Sangh, patterned after the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

The period also saw resurgence among Muslims under the impact of Gulf money. About 44 percent of the Keralites in the Gulf countries are Muslims, and they are the major beneficiaries of the state's remittance-based prosperity. Many religious groups have received funds from benefactors abroad. Secular groups, too, have benefited, although not to the same extent as extremist elements.

As an ally of the Congress, which was in power at the centre at the time, the Muslim League's response to the demolition of Babri Masjid by Sangh Parivar volunteers was muted. In the process, its extremist challengers gained the upper hand. Most of them were aligned with the LDF in the last assembly elections.

It is well known that there has been extensive political infiltration in the state police. The high court has been looking into the failure of the police to check political violence in Kannur, scene of recurrent clashes between CPI-M and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres. A few months ago the Sangh Parivar had struck at CPI-M targets outside the state to check local Marxist attacks. A police raid last week after two RSS men died in an accidental explosion had yielded a haul of 125 country bombs.

(B.R.P. Bhaskar can be contacted at [email protected])

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